At 8 pm local time on Saturday, March 29, we were supposed to turn off our lights and appliances as part of Earth Hour, a worldwide event to highlight the problem of global warming and its solution of people working together to reduce their impact on the environment. Although I knew about Earth Hour, I didn't turn off my lights or my appliances. My excuse was that I had to work.

I'll soon have a chance to redeem myself because Earth Day is coming up. On April 22 each year, Earth Day is held to involve people in making the planet cleaner, healthier, and safer. Sadly, in all honesty, I'm sure I'll probably have another excuse not to join in one of the numerous events planned worldwide.

Because I don't join such events doesn't mean I don't care. I do care, and I try to help anyway I can. But "going green"—the newest lingo for trying to be environmentally conscious—isn't always easy to do. Case in point: About a year ago, I had an old computer system I wanted to recycle instead of throwing in the local landfill. It was too old to donate charity, so I did a lot of searching on the Internet to find a place that would accept it. (See "Spring Cleaning: How to Get Rid of Those Dust Collectors.") This year, I needed to get rid of a broken TV and a really old TV that no one would want, even for free. (I bought it back when cable-ready TVs weren't even a gleam in the inventor's eyes.) Like computers, TVs contain a lot of hazardous materials that shouldn't be in landfills, so I wanted to dispose of them properly. Once again, it took a lot of searching on the Internet to find a place that would recycle the TVs for me, provided I paid the fee. Worse than the time spent searching the Internet was the fact that I had to drive a ways to both recyclers: 80 miles roundtrip to computer recycler and 40 miles roundtrip to TV recycler. All that extra driving put more harmful emissions in the air that no doubt added to our global warming—a case of two steps forward and one step back.

With the transition to all digital broadcasting on February 17, 2009, there's going to be a lot more people who will want to get rid of their old analog TVs. If you're one of them, be aware that states are beginning to pass laws prohibiting electronic waste (e-waste) in landfills. Nine states (California, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Oregon, North Carolina, Texas, and Washington) have already passed laws that mandate the recycling of discarded electronics. However, who pays for the recycling varies. For example, starting in January 2009, Washington state residents will no longer have to pay for recycle televisions because a state law shifts the cost for recycling e-waste to manufacturers. However, California law mandates that consumers pay for recycling through an advanced recycling fee. When consumers purchase an electronic item such as a TV, the fee goes into a statewide recycling fund, which the state uses to reimburse e-waste collectors and recyclers. The Electronics TakeBack Coalition's State Legislation on E-Waste Web page gives a comprehensive rundown on the e-waste legislation passed and under consideration in various states.

If you want to get rid of an old TV and you want to avoid the landfill because you're required to by law or by your conscience, you might want to first see whether your city or county will be sponsoring any e-waste collection events. With Earth Day coming up, there are more events than usual. You might also find other helpful collection events, such as those for collecting unwanted medicine so that harmful drugs don't end up in your water supply.

If no collection events are scheduled near you, you can check out the National Resources Defense Council's (NRDC's) What To Do About E-Waste Web site. This Web site includes a lot of helpful information about and links to:

  • Manufacturer take-back programs. Some manufacturers have recycling programs for their products. For example, you can bring Sony products, including TVs, to any participating Waste Management eCycling drop-off center and recycle them for free. There are drop-off centers in all 50 states.
  • Retailer recycling programs. Some retailers offer recycling programs. For example, Best Buy will remove and recycle your old TV for free when you have a new one delivered to your home. Office Depot offers tech recycling boxes that you fill up with e-waste and take to the store. You just pay a flat fee of $5 for a small box, $10 for a medium box, or $15 for a large box. The large box is 24 inches long by 18 inches wide by 18 inches high and can hold 60 pounds, so it can fit a small TV.
  • Responsible e-waste recyclers. Some e-waste recyclers don't do any of the actual recycling. Instead, they ship e-waste to developing countries, where people, including children, disassemble the products by hand and thus are exposed to all the hazardous material in them. The NRDC Web site discusses what questions you should ask recyclers and provides a link to the Basel Action Network (BAN), which has a list of approved e-waste recyclers.

There are also lots of other e-waste recycling Web sites you can look at. Some of the more notable sites includemyGreenElectronics and Earth 911.

As you can see, finding an e-waste recycler that's relatively nearby, reputable, and reasonably priced isn't always an easy task—unless you're lucky enough to live in Washington. But since we can't all move to that state, let's hope many more states, recyclers, manufacturers, and retailers hop on this e-waste bandwagon.